At just 18, Austin Feaman doesn’t have much memory of a time in his young life when he wasn’t pitching in to help others. He said it was as if his mother, Jennifer, “planted a seed” that helped determine who he would grow up to be.
“As a young child without much knowledge about what it meant to help others, I remember volunteering with my mom and brother at The Baby Fold,” Feaman said, recalling that they made Christmas cards for The Adopt a Family program.
Even though his family did not have a lot in terms of material wealth, his mother made it a priority to teach her children that it was important to give back to the community and help others. Her lesson has stuck with Feaman.
“I’m still doing whatever I can to help others, big or small, whenever I can,” he said.
Volunteering came in a variety of forms, much of it centered around the family’s church. Feaman volunteered for the annual coat drive, took part in setting up a toy drive, helped with a church camp daycare, and worked sporting events at the church. In addition, he volunteered at Westminster Village Retirement Community.
Such dedication to serving others has helped Feaman, a Normal Community West High School graduate and incoming Illinois State University elementary education major, earn a McLean County Full Tuition Scholarship, which provides free tuition to students who have a history of leadership, community service, and commitment to the community. He is one of eight recipients.
Feaman said that witnessing his mother’s example at an early age inspired him then and now.
“It really sparked a light in me,” he said.
So much so that he organized, with his high school’s Black Student Union, a fundraising drive to benefit three local organizations: Home Sweet Home Ministries, Boys and Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal, and the Salvation Army. He took on the challenge, he said, “because it gave me hope in my community that we can all come together and help a cause.”
Of all the experiences he’s had, he said one of the most memorable was volunteering at the McLean County Interstate Christmas Sale. For three consecutive years, he and his family—which includes his mother, his father, Adam, and his younger brother, Colin—participated and helped raise money for the No Veteran Left Behind project.
“My family and I loved it because it was a great bonding experience for us and brought us closer together,” Feaman said.
Another of his favorites was one of his first philanthropic opportunities when his middle school baseball team volunteered to participate in The Miracle League. This event paired Feaman and his teammates with special needs players to teach them how to play baseball and have fun at it. The experience taught him empathy.
“It taught me to not judge a book by its cover but to learn from the pages inside,” he said.
His biggest influence when it comes to volunteering has been his mother, he said, noting that she was always there to help him but also knew how to let him pick his own path. He also had a lot of support during his formative high school years.
“I have to thank my teachers in high school for supporting me and my peers to start to change the school and our community for the better,” he said.
When he gets to campus he plans to join the Triathlon Club since he enjoyed running and swimming in high school. And, he’s interested in Pride and, as a future teacher, the Educators Rising Club.
“I plan on becoming an elementary teacher and a coach at the high school level,” Feaman said.
He is proud to be recognized for his philanthropic work. He has great appreciation for winning such a prestigious scholarship that will allow him to stay out of debt while earning his degree.
“This scholarship means so much to my family,” Feaman said, adding that he’s just getting started with volunteering. “My years of giving back have been engraved in my heart, and I will continue to help in any way I can, here at Illinois State University, and in my life going forward.”